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For the Birds

Fairbanks has a large and seemingly growing population of feral pigeons. Some folks absolutely love them and to show that love, they feed them to ensure population growth and continued residency within Fairbanks. For every one of those avid pigeon lovers there are just as many folks that truly hate them. Some of the haters do everything they can to diminish the numbers of pigeons that live here and we will leave it to the imagination on just how that clandestine population reduction is accomplished. No matter which side of this debate you find yourself on, you still have to wonder how they ever got here in the first place:

Fairbanks Daily News Miner – January 27, 1973

excerpt from feature article regarding backyard pigeon feeding:

…”Pigeons have been raised in Fairbanks from before 1910. Both Clara Rust and Edby Davis, two of this area’s pioneers, report various people raised them, confining them during the winter. Today many people raise pigeons in the Fairbanks area. Most keep them confined and allow them to fly only for short periods of time. William Blackmon, on Aurora Drive, allows his birds to be free all the time and they stay within close range of the house.

It is not know for sure where the flock of wild pigeons now seen year-around originally came from. During World War II some army messenger pigeons escaped, some of whom were still in the area in 1949. In the 1950’s the Alaska Field and Trial association shipped in pigeons for their members and occasionally some of them would get away.

Joined by other “escapees”, roosting in such places as Santa’s warehouse on Hall Street and Usibelli’s coal bunkers, and finding good roosts in various places, they somehow managed to survive and multiply. When some of the downtown buildings were boarded up, the main group gradually moved out of the core area. During the summer they are seen downtown, but are seldom seen there during the winter. The flock has become a mixture of Blue Bar, racing and homing pigeons, and other breeds.….”

Now let’s see when pigeons actually first arrived to Fairbanks:

Tanana Weekly Miner – October 12, 1906

LATEST INDUSTRY IS RAISING OF SQUABS

Tanana’s latest industry, recently established by Mike Balton, is a squab farm, which will be in full operation as soon as the pigeons imported by the proprietor get over their homesickness and the consequent desire to fly back to the balmy clime of Puget Sound, whence they came.

Mike has a regular pigeon cote established in his back yard at Seventh and Cowles, and the sight makes the mouth of the epicure water, at the thought of the good things in store, every time he passes that way.

Mr. Balton has had unusually good luck in his experiments at raising chickens in the Tanana, and is branching out into the new field partly as a hobby and part to show that anything that can be raised anywhere else on the face of the earth will thrive in the Tanana valley.

The shipment of original stock for starting the new industry arrived on the last boat in from the outside, and the experiment will be watched with a good deal of interest.

Note: Mr. Balton began supplying his squabs to local restaurants soon after the arrival of his birds. Perhaps some modern genetic testing coupled with some of these historical newspaper articles could tell us if Mr. Belton’s flock is still with us today! This love it, or hate it, History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska. 

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